FOKI-Post: A Final RAP

almost done

What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from. — T. S. Eliot

Have we really come to the end? It seems like we started a week ago and a hundred years ago all at the same time. I haven’t looked at my course goals in a while, so it was interesting to read through them again and reflect one last time on what we’ve accomplished in ECI 521.

Professional Goals

Beginning of Course Goals: Although my primary research interest is effective strategies for teaching writing, I am interested in expanding my knowledge of current trends in English Education. Although it’s an uncomfortable conversation, I think I need to address the prisonkeeper issue in this course. How do decisions about the literary texts we teach reflect important epistemological assumptions, and do those assumptions need adjustment? Are students imprisoned by traditional works of literature? Is it enough to expand the canon to include a wider range of voices? Do the voices need to include young adult literature? Does a curriculum based on young adult literature imprison students by failing to equip them to read complex texts associated with elitist education? Can young adult literature offer the same complexity as the works associated with the adult literary canon? What distinguishes a work as “young adult”? Professionally, I want to understand young adult literature in relation to the big questions that inform our teaching.

End of Course Assessment: As we come to the end of ECI 521, I have reached some degree of resolution about the prisonkeeper issue. I still have a lot to learn about YAL, but I have not yet found YA literature with the complexity and quality that I want in the works I teach. After much reflection, I have concluded that I can let go of the guilt complex: teaching canonical texts does not imprison my students. I have become more convinced that failing to teach the classics would do more to imprison students, limiting them to what they already know, rather than helping them discover complex texts with rich interpretive issues. My Action Learning Project revealed that a large number of my students enjoy YA literature and adult popular fiction, but I see no need to teach these texts. Based on the information my students provided me, they found YA literature without my help, and they don’t seem to need my help to make sense of them. Until I find more challenging, richer YA texts, it seems to make more sense to emphasize the reading and analysis of complex canonical texts that students would have more difficulty unpacking on their own.

There is another function of YAL literature, however, that I think can complement the study of canonical texts. YA literature seems to offer students more immediate access to meaning-making works without the cognitive challenge of the classics. Although YA literature offers a wide range of texts, common features seem to be simpler language, characters with whom students can relate, and, at least frequently, action-centered plots with a little edge to them. Without working too hard to figure out a text, teen readers can grapple with adult-size problems that they are beginning to grow into. The engaging plots, quick narrative pacing, and stylistic simplicity of much YA literature makes it useful for cultivating a love of reading. In my teaching role, I want to be sure my students are capable of unpacking the more complex canonical texts. Not all of my students will fall in love with those texts, however, and YA texts can serve an important function in helping many students make sense of their lives. A combination of extra-curricular and in-class book clubs seems a useful way to take advantage of what YA literature can offer. By continuing to emphasize canonical texts in my teaching but making a space for pleasure reading of a wider range of texts, it should be possible to create an environment responsive to Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, social constructivism, and Rosenblatt’s Reader Response theory.

Literary Goals

Beginning of Course Goals: My literary goals overlap with professional goals, but are less epistemologically focused. Whether or not I conclude that I need to rethink the works that form the core of my curriculum, I would like to learn more about the books that my students are reading outside of class. I am also interested in evaluating the literary merit of young adult literature. This seemed less a dilemma when teaching sixth grade. As a teacher of college-bound 11th and 12th grade students, I would like a deeper understanding of what young adult literature has to offer that the literature that students are more likely to read in college does not provide. I am also interested in learning more about non-fiction texts for young adults.

End of Course Assessment: The Action Learning Project opened my eyes to a world of books I knew little or nothing about. Many of these texts would not interest me personally; my tastes are clearly nineteenth century when it comes to style. I appreciate contemporary literature as well, but a book needs to possess the poetry of Cormac McCarthy if I’m going to devote several hours to contemplating the darker side of human existence. Nonetheless, while one of my goals as a teacher is to be sure my students are capable of reading complex literary texts, it would be absurd for me to assume that they will adopt my reading tastes. I’ve just begun to investigate YA adult and adult contemporary texts my students are reading, but I now have a much better idea of the range of literature available and of their interests. Although I wasn’t overly impressed with the Printz titles I read this semester, the limited sample is hardly sufficient for drawing final conclusions. I’m willing to remain open to the possibility that high quality texts exist. This FOKI-post is an “End of Course,” not a final, assessment. Questions about the literary merit of YA literature will need to remain unresolved for now.

Our discussions of Common Core and our introduction to Marc Arononson’s nonfiction works gave me a much clearer sense of the latest trends in English education and the types of texts that are available. I don’t know that I would include texts like Aronson’s in my courses, but I might suggest his texts for supplementary or leisure reading — and I would certainly recommend Aronson for younger students. For college-bound high school juniors and seniors, moving on to the kinds of nonfiction texts students will read in college seems more appropriate. Teaching works recommended by Common Core like Paine’s “Common Sense,” the Declaration of Independence, and Frederick Douglass’ abolitionist texts seems more appropriate for my students (and I already include these in my AP 11 course, which emphasizes rhetorical analysis of nonfiction texts). Even though I teach in a private school setting and am not bound by Common Core, I am open to including more nonfiction in my British literature classes, but any move toward a 70/30 nonfiction/fiction split would need to take place as intended in Common Core — across all subjects.

One can only hope that local policymakers and principals will emphasize the need for students to read more complex nonfiction texts across the high school curriculum, not just in language arts. The issue deserves more space than I can give it here, but at the end of ECI 521, I have a much stronger sense of what the issues are, and I feel much more equipped to engage in the debate, which is certain to dominate discussions of curriculum for some time.

Technology Goals

Beginning of Course Goals: Although the focus in this course is on young adult literature, I’m eager to learn about new strategies for integrating technology in teaching literature. I’ve come a long way since my afternoon of disgust with the technology resources of the late 90s. I am still wary of frivolous uses of technology, but I am learning that the frivolousness of a technology application generally has more to do with decisions about how to use a tool than with the tool itself. Tweeting what you had for lunch seems rather frivolous to me, but following the Curiosity Rover might be useful for a science teacher. I am interested in learning about new technology resources and tools and evaluating how they might be useful in the English classroom. As more of the discussion in English Education begins to focus on non-print texts and new literacies, ECI 521 seems a good setting for evaluating tools from the students’ point of view. What makes some uses of technology frustrating? When are those frustrations healthy, and when would another teaching strategy or a different approach to integrating technology be more effective? The more complicated question to answer, perhaps, is how to integrate technology with literature instruction so that technology does not become the new curriculum. If students spend so long learning to use a tool or to create a product that they don’t have time to read, technology is no longer serving its purpose. One goal for this class is to gain practical experience that will better equip me to answer these sorts of questions.

End of Course Assessment: As I have commented in an earlier post, this course took an immersion approach to technology. Although my skill set has increased exponentially since I’ve been in this program, this course stretched me – especially in navigating the Wiki, adapting to class in Second Life, and creating videos. I still would prefer more linear instructions for projects (with main instructions on a single printable page and all the links I need included on that main instruction page), but I did eventually adapt to working in a paperless world. By the end of the course, I was working from the online instructions more than from my printed copies, and I had completely given up (in a good sense) on a printed copy of the Working Syllabus. Although the RAPs were enormously time-consuming, an important take-away from this class was that increasing opportunities for self-evaluation and an encouraging instructor can help alleviate the stress over learning to use new technologies. I wasn’t afraid to experiment because the course seemed to encourage taking risks, honesty about successes and failures, and the kinds of reflection that measure learning much more effectively than more traditional evaluation (of projects that would have never gone beyond the “safe”) could have done. Although the Wiki was more than a little overwhelming at first, I learned that an instructor’s encouraging tone can quickly establish trust and help students just take one step at a time. Scaffolding assignments is always pedagogically sound, but this is particularly true when using technology. This became more and more evident as we checked off assignments each week.

This is a rather I-centered evaluation when my initial goal was to learn more about teaching with technology, but my own feelings about using technology seem to be the most important factor in increasing my understanding of how to facilitate my students’ learning with technology. Even though I have had quite a few online courses before, those first few courses now feel like kindergarten next to this course’s immersive context. Oddly enough, though, the earlier courses were the ones where I had meltdowns. By this course, I knew enough to trust that I’d figure it out and to have some pretty good ideas about how to do that. Still, the constant reflection gave me lots of opportunities to think about where technology was frustrating me, where (often surprisingly) it was not, and strategies the instructor was using to model best practices and to scaffold the learning process for us. As I continue to think about technology tools to integrate in teaching literature, including tools that might facilitate collaboration between students, I have a much stronger sense of how to scaffold the use of technology tools.

Synthesis: Getting a Little Closer to Putting It All Together

The Change Project

As I read over my initial questions and thought about my conclusions, it might seem that I’ve moved nowhere. After spending weeks on the Change Project, I’m pretty sure that “change” is something that should have happened this semester. Although my answers to my original questions and my continuing unanswered questions might suggest that I haven’t changed much at all, nothing could be further from the truth. Traveling around the world may land adventurers back where they began, but they certainly are not the same after the journey.

I began this course unsure about whether my approach to teaching imprisoned my students, never having heard of the Printz Award, and interested in learning more about effective integration of technology in the curriculum. The course design was not all what I expected (I envisioned a course in which we read a slew of YA novels and pretended that we had become semi-experts in YA literature when all was said and done. You know, sort of the way we naively imagined we had become experts in British or American literature after those first 200-level survey courses in undergrad.) Instead, we became familiar with a few YA fiction and nonfiction texts, and we became much better equipped to ask fruitful questions and comfortable knowing how to evaluate the texts and teaching strategies we use for our individual teaching contexts.

Conversations in the blogosphere and in Second Life allowed veteran teachers and classmates with more recent experiences on the learners’ side of K-12 classrooms to share ideas and discover together that one-size-fits-all solutions do not exist. My current conclusions about the balance between YA literature and canonical texts would be tossed out if I were teaching in the classrooms where Curtis or Sarah teach. I remain committed to using technology to facilitate learning about literature, without allowing it to become the curriculum, and I feel more comfortable making decisions about how to make that happen. The students in the Eva Perry Mock Printz Club remain an inspiration and have convinced me that finding ways to help more young adults discover the joy of reading for pleasure is a goal I want to pursue for the future. While I have tried to leave my plans for book clubs flexible enough to give students ownership, I am looking forward to continuing to think about the ideas we have wrestled with individually and as a group this semester. And, addicted as I am to nineteenth century texts, I’m looking forward to making time for reading a few of the Young Adult works that inspired Mock-Printz-style enthusiasm from my own avid readers. I think I’m going to have to start with a little steampunk.

By reconcilingmatters

Critical Reflection Post: Aronson and the Stuff We Never, Ever Study

Meeting Marc Aronson in the Bookhenge this week revealed a writer very much in tune with Herbert Spencer’s 1859 question, “What knowledge is of most worth?” Aronson’s nonfiction works challenge us to rethink that question. While many of us in ECI 521 have wrestled with questions about the value of the literary canon and contemporary Young Adult fiction, Aronson pushes the question even further. What nonfiction topics have value? Instead of writing about the topics typically covered in the curriculum, Aronson looks for the “stuff going on that we never, ever study.” His promise that there was some pretty fascinating, and even world-changing, stuff going on between 3000 and 4000 B.C. sent me digging for a copy of The Columbia History of the World, which I should confess I purchased long enough ago that the pages have completely yellowed. I didn’t think I’d ever gotten around to reading, well, any of it, but a few penciled notes in the margin show that I did read a few pages in the chapter titled “The New Culture: 1200-200 B.C.” A glance at one chart indicates that hieroglyphics were invented in Egypt in 3100 B.C., and the Sumerians started writing in 3300 B.C. Agriculture reached Ireland about the same time that Sumerians were making wheeled vehicles, pottery, and sailboats. Aronson was right. Some interesting stuff was going on.

Using Aronson’s own strategy of using digital resources to investigate a topic more quickly, I turned to that great fount of knowledge, which even Aronson himself acknowledged as a starting place for research: Wikipedia. The image of Sumerian writing just looked like a pretty piece of art. But the description on the page with the licensing information for the image smacked of “the stuff going on that we never, ever study.” According to Wikipedia, the text (which I’ve reproduced at the top of this blog entry) is a list of “gifts from the High and Mighty of Adab to the High Priestess, on the occasion of her election to the temple.”

Now I was definitely interested. What woman in ancient Mesopotamia was so important that gifts given to her were deemed important enough to inscribe in stone? A quick google search turned up an Iranian priestess named Enheduanna as a possibility. She was also a poet and has been called the world’s oldest writer. And so the first known writer was a woman? That could stir up the canon! Her “Lament to the Spirit of War” would be a great study for comparison with later Western poetry. Could she be the priestess who received enough gifts to make an inventory? Who was giving her gifts?

I flipped back to my Columbia History. Wikipedia and quick google searches are only a starting place for investigation, and I wanted the reliable voices of the forty professors who collaborated to produce the “real” facts. Sargon I appears on page 60, but not a word about his daughter Enheduanna, or her involvement in politics, her expulsion from Ur, or her reinstatement. Seriously? Who decided that the knowledge of most worth was Sargon’s extension of “the first known empire . . . from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf” but that the birth of poetry didn’t bear mentioning? Maybe I’m overlooking the detail; I did confess that I’ve never quite finished reading the scholarly tome.

Ultimately, I don’t know if Aronson had the Sumerians or Enheduanna in mind when he teased us with the promise of a really interesting story, but it’s clear that he is right – there is a lot of stuff that we never, ever study that, perhaps, we oughta’. (And here I was thinking that women were left out of the canon because they just weren’t allowed to do much of anything for the last few millennia.) I don’t know if Wikipedia has its facts right or not, but it provided a really interesting place for starting an investigation. I do hope Aronson writes that book about how the world changed between 3000 and 4000 B.C., and if he wasn’t planning on including Enheduanna, I hope he’ll consider giving her at least a little space – perhaps in the name of extending the nonfiction canon just a bit.

As we come to the end of this series of critical reflections, it seems worth noting how a simple little comment from Aronson set me on an unexpected search and led to an intriguing new interest. Aronson is right. Knowledge is pleasure, and nonfiction is pleasure reading. Moreover, nonfiction and fiction don’t have to be at war. In pursuit of factual information, I also stumbled upon a literary topic and a collection of beautiful poems. Maybe there’s a YA novel somewhere in there waiting to be written as well. Enheduanna might make a great topic for a work of historical fiction.

By reconcilingmatters

Critical Reflection Post: Total Immersion & Celebrating Change

As we finish up with The Change Project, it feels like time for a little music to celebrate our accomplishments to date. My 11th graders are reading a collection of Emerson’s essays right now – one of the more difficult reading assignments of the year, and one of my students wrote on the board, “What’s the best way to understand Emerson? Total emersion.” We won’t quibble over the substitution for “immersion” that made the pun work. The quip is right. Some things are just so complex that you have to totally immerse yourself in them to begin to make sense of things. That has certainly been the case in this course.

Even though I did a project on wikis in the first tech ed course I took in this program, I have as yet to use one with my students. For that course, I used a website to present my research on wikis, and so I totally immersed myself in learning how to create a website — not how to use a wiki. The irony of learning about technology in grad school is that being in grad school is so time-consuming in itself that there isn’t always time to figure out what to do with all the tools we’re learning about — so some get pushed aside for trying out later. Even though I understood the concept of a wiki and could envision types of assignments for which it would be useful, I didn’t feel confident about my ability to set one up, and the wiki has been the one part of this course that has given me endless frustration. I think part of that is the non-linear nature of the beast, and part of it is the creative names. While it seems obvious now that “Live the Questions” is the Twitter stream and that the instructions for the CCI will be available with a link from the Working Syllabus, and the rubric will be on the RAP, at the beginning of the course, the wiki was as overwhelming as a first reading of “The Over-soul.” It’s not that individual pages didn’t make sense, but putting it all together made me feel like a high school student trying to piece together Emerson’s rambling abstractions. The online framework just exacerbated the problem. At least with Emerson, you can flip pages to see how much further you’ve got to go. With hyperlinks leading to hyperlinks leading to hyperlinks, figuring out how to budget time for a project seemed daunting.

By just plugging along though, trying to take one project at a time, the wiki has begun to make sense in the same way that Emerson does if you just keep reading long enough. I still couldn’t draw a site map of the wiki from memory any more than I could outline one of Emerson’s essays, but patterns begin to emerge after a while, and eventually both begin to make sense. Maybe less creative titles on the wiki would help (The first week of class, I would have preferred “Twitter Stream” to “Live the Questions.”), and maybe Emerson would make more sense if he weren’t always trying to wax eloquent, but something would be lost in both cases.

By the time we got to Part 2 of the Change Project, CCI’s no longer seemed frightening, and the idea that we were just creating one of those activities like we’d already experienced from the student perspective several times made the project go smoothly. Using a wiki for a collaborative critical inquiry no longer seems like a project to save for much later when I have loads of free time on my hand. The night that we finished the Change Project, I set up a wiki for my own use and started brainstorming about how I might use it with my students in the near future. A wiki now seems like a really easy tool to use, and that’s something I learned through total immersion in a way that I did not learn through a research project about wikis.

It’s a little thing, but it’s a change that seems to call for celebration.

By reconcilingmatters

Critical Reflection Post: Bittersweet Nonfiction and Changing the World

Sugar turned human beings into property, yet sugar led people to reject the idea that any person could be owned by another. Sugar murdered millions, and yet it gave the voiceless a way to speak. Sugar crushed people, and yet it was because of sugar that Gandhi began his experiment in truth — so that every individual could free him- or herself. Only sugar — the sweetness we all crave — could drive people to be so cruel, and to combat all forms of cruelty.

— from Aronson’s Sugar changed the world.

As we began this course, many of us wrestled with the question of what we look for in YA literature. Is the quality of a work determined by aesthetic issues related to style or by the extent to which the work helps young adults make sense of their worlds? I want both, but in particular, I want books that handle important subjects with the seriousness they are due. Aronson’s Sugar changed the world certainly meets that standard.

As Common Core encourages a 50-50 split between fiction and nonfiction texts, however, I feel conflicted. Which nonfiction? What kinds of nonfiction texts blend with the fiction texts we teach at the secondary level? Can we teach literary journalism and sneak in an emphasis on the aesthetic qualities of the prose? Or maybe we can integrate current events with fiction texts to highlight universal themes common to human beings throughout time. Or should we mimic the AP English Language curriculum and explore nonfiction texts as a hook for teaching rhetorical analysis and providing substance for students to develop their own skills in argument. Do we need to open up the curriculum and let students pick nonfiction texts that satisfy their need to understand how things work? Or is nonfiction most valuable as a tool for changing the world?

Maybe the answer is that we can and should do all of those things. In Sugar changed the world, Aronson provided a lot of information about the sugar industry. For students who want to know how things work, we might provide additional texts related to how sugar is grown and processed. To help students understand the aesthetic qualities that allow words to change the world too, we might examine nonfiction texts that have used language effectively to convince the world of those things that ought to be obvious but so seldom are. Then students might explore the connections between fiction and nonfiction texts to discover ways they can use their own voices to address issues of social justice.

Both fiction and nonfiction can be used to help students grapple with some of the more difficult questions of human existence. Why is it that we are freed by the very things that once enslaved us? Why do human beings have to be crushed before we are stirred to action? How could a craving for sugar lead to such inhumanity? And what is there within human nature that allows us to close our eyes to injustice one year and then sacrifice our lives to fight it the next? These are bittersweet, but important, issues appropriate to the secondary English language arts curriculum.

Ultimately, the English language arts classroom may be able to continue to do what it has always done well; that is, to help students consider what it means to be human and how to use the tools of language to make the world a little bit better place. That may mean learning how to share ideas succinctly in 140 characters or less — or how to use images, sound, and text to communicate effectively. Responding to Aronson’s text led Doug, Jill, and me to explore a variety of other nonfiction texts to answer questions about the degree to which social media is changing the world. In the Haitian Revolution and in the Arab Spring, the full story is complicated. Whether using traditional or alternative means of protest, however, a common theme in the nonfiction texts we explored was the human drive to address social injustice in the world. It’s the kind of issue English teachers are comfortable addressing through fiction texts. Nonfiction texts should fit right in.

By reconcilingmatters

Nonfiction, the Neglected Stepchild: CCI

Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, by Pablo Picasso (1910)

While looking for an image to go along with this discussion, I got distracted from my task by a trail of hyperlinks related to Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. I was just looking for an example of a cubist painting by Picasso – Aronson’s comparison of the way we talk about history to kinds of paintings intrigued me – but the painting of Kahnweiler piqued my curiosity. I found myself moving back and forth between vertical and horizontal reading, clicking on links to learn more about this stock-broker-turned-art patron, who spent his spare time reading nonfiction too, reading to learn more about art history. I was enthralled by the story of this man who supported cubist painters, including Picasso and Braque, before they had established their reputations as masters. As a Frenchman with German heritage, his art collection was confiscated and sold and he was exiled to Switzerland during World War I. There, he became a prolific author of nonfiction, an occupation he continued while in hiding in France during World War II.

Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler

So why ramble on and on about Kahnweiler when I’m supposed to writing about Aronson’s ideas on nonfiction? Because Aronson is right. Nonfiction is not a collection of dull, dry facts. We often say that students who don’t like to read just haven’t found the right book yet. Not everyone wants to learn more about cubism and early twentieth-century art patrons. But our students all want to know more about something. The problem is that we often don’t give them the opportunity to explore those topics.

There is no doubt that Aronson is right. Nonfiction has become the neglected stepchild. He is probably also right when he argues that nonfiction is the reading choice of boys and that many of the students we label as non-readers are actually avid readers – they just don’t gravitate to the sorts of texts we typically introduce in the English classroom. Our students seem less and less able to unpack texts with complex syntactical structures, and we place the blame on their refusal to devote hours to Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, and Brontë. But what are we offering them? The canon may consist primarily of male authors, but the texts focus on relationships and feelings – subjects many of our male students prefer to learn about through life rather than through a book. We can offer up Young Adult literature to address the problem, but those books are filled with teenage angst and more talk about relationships. Even the novels packed with action eventually work their way around to relationships – and while many of our male students are quite skilled at mature, compassionate relationships, they may not want to talk or read about them all the time.

I haven’t yet resolved the question of what we can do to include more nonfiction in the middle and high school curriculum. I’m convinced that students need to read more and that nonfiction can help all students, but reluctant readers in particular, develop more sophisticated comprehension skills. Bringing nonfiction texts into the classroom is also a good way to introduce students to diverse ways of viewing the world – much like the multiple perspectives in a cubist painting. I’m also convinced that I need to make more room in my classroom for nonfiction. The question for me is how much. A 50-50 split between fiction and nonfiction texts, as Common Core is encouraging, seems unfair. Shouldn’t students be reading nonfiction in their science and social studies and math classes, as well as most of their electives? If the language arts class is the only (or at least primary) place for fiction, should we surrender half the time to nonfiction? And even the guys who would rather read an auto mechanics manual than another novel about human conflict need to learn to unpack complex texts about relationships.

I don’t have satisfying answers to the questions Aronson raises. I am determined that as soon as I finish this graduate program, I’m going to indulge myself with a summer full of reading just for the sheer pleasure of it. Some of those books will be triple-decker Victorian novels, but I’d like to make time for some slow reading about Picasso and Braque and Kahnweiler as well.

Aronson, M. (2003). Biography and its perils. Beyond the pale: New essays for a new era (pp. 69-72). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
Aronson, M. (2003). The pursuit of happiness: Does American history matter anymore? Beyond the pale: New essays for a new era (pp. 75-83). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
Aronson, M. (2003). Why adult boys can’t read. Beyond the pale: New essays for a new era (pp. 99-103). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
Aronson, M. (2003). “Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head”: Is the past knowable. Beyond the pale: New essays for a new era (pp. 105-115). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.

By reconcilingmatters

Critical Reflection Post: Bold Choices CCI

Photo credit: Alicakes* / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

This week’s CCI may be one of the more practical ones of the course. While we’ve spent most of the course becoming more familiar with YAL and technology that we can use to engage our students in meaningful conversations about literature, it would probably be difficult to find a content area more likely to stir controversy than the English language arts. We don’t spend a lot of time in an English classroom talking about ideas about which everyone agrees. Why would an author bother to write a book about an issue that didn’t spark debate? Good literature is controversial at its core. If it weren’t, we’d be out of a job once students mastered decoding skills. Who would care about literary devices if they weren’t clues to unpacking the power of words to stir strong feelings? Rather than avoid situations that allow students to see, hear, or speak about evil, we spend a lot of our time charging full-steam ahead into conversations about right and wrong and lots of shades of gray.

Although it is important to understand our rights and responsibilities to our students, it’s also easy to be glib about parents’ concerns, and I’m afraid that sometimes educators can be insensitive to legitimate criticisms — or overly disturbed when parents lash out in anger about the choices we make in the classroom. It seems unfair to expect parents to exhibit the same state of calm we hope we will project. Parents don’t spend time in education classes learning how to handle conflict over books. They just panic when a child brings home a book and points to the content on page 23. They might be forgiven for being caught off guard and shooting off an angry response before they have time to read the book and locate reviews and investigate the formal complaint process and fill out a request for reconsidering a book and inquire as to alternative assignments and find a way to politely ask about what the discussion in the classroom is going to be. As we discussed in the Bookhenge this week, there’s a lot we can do to earn parents’ trust and to help them understand their rights. It seems that we might have far less need for formal hearings on book choices if we are proactive in providing parents the information they need about what we are trying to accomplish in the classroom.

Technology in the classroom introduces a whole new set of problems. What if our students see, hear, or even speak evil in an online environment? Unless we deplete all our energy resources and lose the ability to communicate in online environments, technology is here to stay. We have a right and responsibility to teach our students to use technology to locate information and to express their own ideas because the world isn’t always a safe place. Pretending that the world is a place with no evil won’t make it so. What better environment is there than the English language arts classrooom to discuss issues of security, respect, and critical evaluation of ideas? It is, after all, what we do best.

By reconcilingmatters

Critical Reflection Post: Two Steps Forward and One Step Back

I’m no longer afraid of that color-coded chart on the Wiki. I finished the Lit.Review Lite, and I feel fairly confident that I now understand the major issues to consider in establishing a book club. I have a clear plan for how to complete my Action Learning Project, and whatever the outcome, I think I will know a lot more about my students’ reading habits. I have a better sense of national trends in reading among young adults, and I have better understanding about how book clubs can address the needs of struggling, reluctant, and avid readers. Zipping into Second Life to meet classmates and talk about an upcoming project seems as natural as meeting at the coffeeshop – and a lot more convenient. CCI no longer seems like a cryptic code guaranteed to raise my blood pressure. While I started the semester more afraid of making a video than figuring out how to navigate in Second Life, I registered this week for a course in videography because – hey – making videos turned out to be fun, and I think I’m ready to move to the next level and learn more about creating educational videos.

With only about a month to go in ECI 521, all that represents my two (or three or four) steps forward. And so being unable to hear anything when we broke out for small groups in SL this week and then having the whole program shut down and having to log back in during the last few minutes of class felt like one great big step back. While I’m aware that weird things can happen online, I still find it frustrating when I can’t troubleshoot the problem. I’d like a message that flashes on the screen to say, “Notice: Second Life Is Not Responding. It’s Not Anything You Did This Time” or “Notice: Second Life Is Not Responding. Automatic Scan Detects Interference with the Last Program You Downloaded. Uninstall the Stupid Thing.” On the other hand, I suppose it’s progress that I have a better gut instinct about which things are my doing and which things are not. And every time my avatar decides to take a walk that I haven’t asked her to take, I learn more about navigating in SL. Even though success in the course has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I can get her out of the water and back up on the bridge, the fact that I can seems somehow relevant to my continuing confidence with technology and YAL. As we’ve laughed about learning at the edge of our incompetence this semester, the edge seems to be moving further out as we head into the final stretch. Although part of me would like fewer projects and more time to work on each of them, I’m also aware that a large part of the learning this semester has happened because of the diversity of projects and the need to stop obsessing over the little stuff and just keep moving.

This week also marked the conclusion of the multicultural CCI, which caused me to reflect once again about reconciling matters related to past and future trends in literature. Although questions about authorship for identity-based awards have no simple answers, I have come to a firmer conclusion about how I would cast my vote on the issue and why. The Multicultural CCI gave me an opportunity to connect my thoughts on authorship of canonical, abolitionist texts with the questions we have been raising about identity-based awards and YAL. By considering the debate about identity-based awards in a larger historical context, the question became easier for me to resolve. I suppose we’ve made some little progress in recognizing the achievements of writers outside the mainstream culture, but the challenges of the nineteenth century are not completely behind us.

Although my SL woes caused me to miss much of the discussion about identity-based awards in the Bookhenge this week, our final group conversation suggested that identity-based awards might seem, like my technology progress, to represent two steps forward and one step back. While multicultural literature is gaining in recognition, the fact that identity-based awards are needed to promote those books seems a step backward. And while we’d all like a world in which good literature is just good literature, I’m not sure we’re there yet. Sometimes it feels like our progress is just baby steps, but perhaps identity-based awards will help us keep making progress.

As a final note, I figured out how to uninstall a program that may or may not have been contributing to the problems in SL last week. Whether or not it had anything to do with the glitches, I learned a new skill, so it’s all good. That may actually be five or six steps forward for this week.

By reconcilingmatters

Adolescent Book Clubs: An Exploratory Project for Encouraging Reading among Young Adults

When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young. – Maya Angelou

While emphasis on standardized testing in recent years has drawn attention to students who continue to struggle with reading, even young adults who are proficient readers seem to be spending less time reading. For those of us who have experienced the meaning-making power of books, the voluntary aliteracy of many young adults is perplexing. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA, 2007) has reported declines in the number of teens who read daily. Of particular concern is the small number of teens who read for pleasure. Thirteen percent of thirteen-year-olds and 19% of seventeen-year-olds rarely or never read for fun; only 30% of thirteen-year-olds and 20% of seventeen-year-olds read for pleasure on a daily basis (NEA, 2007, p. 8). The number of non-readers is even greater among college students. By their senior year in college, 39% report that they do not read for pleasure on a weekly basis (NEA, 2007, p. 9). While it might be tempting to attribute declines in reading for pleasure to busy schedules of teenagers and young adults, fifteen- to twenty-four-year-olds do find time for watching television 2 to 2 ½ hours per day (NEA, 2007, p. 10). Curiosity about the differences between avid readers in my own classes and students who seem to resist reading assignments contributed to my interest in learning more about my students’ out-of-school reading habits and exploring ideas for encouraging more of them to become lifelong readers. In particular, I was interested in research about book clubs as a tool for encouraging young adults to share enthusiasm for reading in a social setting.

The Rationale for Book Clubs
Although most of my students are proficient readers, I am less certain about the number who spend substantial time reading for pleasure. While informal conversations suggest that some of my students are avid readers, I wonder whether or not a book club might hook more students on reading for fun. Although research suggests that “book clubs enhance students’ enjoyment and engagement in reading” (Polleck, 2010, p. 59), questions remain about what types of students benefit from book clubs. One of the first considerations for planning a book club, then, is determining the purpose and target audience. Research suggests that book clubs can serve a wide range of purposes and can target students who already enjoy reading and students who might be described as reluctant, or even struggling, readers. As Alvermann and her colleagues argue, avid readers can often be stigmatized: “Being labeled a social outcast by one’s peer group because one reads a lot may lead ultimately to an avoidance of reading” (1999, p. 222). According to Capalongo-Bernadowski, avid readers find book clubs to be a valuable setting for connecting with other students who share their love of reading (2007, p. 32). Students in book clubs observed by Alvermann and her colleagues noted that “being viewed as a reader could earn one the title of nerd or worse”; a book club served as an important social outlet for these avid readers (1999, p. 240).

Book clubs, then, can provide a valuable social outlet for students who love to read, but they can also be used with less proficient readers “to enhance both academic achievement and social and emotional growth” (Polleck, 2010, p. 53). Struggling readers often find book clubs to be a non-threatening environment for building literacy skills (Capalongo-Bernadowski, 2007, p. 32). As Ambe notes, factors contributing to reading reluctance are complex, but “[r]egardless of whether the causes of reading problems are cognitive, emotional, or otherwise, teachers must continue to use creative instructional strategies to help students become more proficient readers” (2007, p. 833). Lapp and Fisher’s creative experiment with book clubs within eleventh-grade English classes resulted in impressive increases in students’ interests in reading: “these students were intrinsically motivated to read and to participate in…readings and subsequent discussions because their voices and interests were driving the text selections and conversations” (2009, p. 560).

Although reading is often touted for its benefits in building a vital economy or a stronger democracy (NEA, 2007), my interest in promoting lifelong reading for pleasure relates more to the meaning-making capacity of literature. As Maya Angelou suggests, one of the great pleasures of reading is related to the ability of books to help us make sense of a complicated world. While the Common Core curriculum has shifted toward greater emphasis on close reading to develop analytical skills, book clubs offer an informal social setting in which students can use literature to help make sense of their own lives. Allusions to Rosenblatt’s ideas about the readers’ meaning-making transactions with a text are common in the literature about book clubs (Capalongo-Bernadowski, 2007, p. 32; Polleck, 2010, pp. 51-52; Barone, 2011, p. 2). Polleck (2010), for instance, argues that readers first interact with a text individually through Rosenblatt’s efferent and aesthetic responses. Book clubs provide a space for moving beyond individual responses to collaborative construction of meaning with peers. According to Polleck, Rosenblatt’s transformative experiences do not take place “until those individual responses are articulated with and to others – thus the importance of book clubs, where participants share, negotiate and ultimately transform their understanding of the texts, themselves and the world” (2010, p. 52). Developing reading proficiency and learning to use literature to make sense of the world are interrelated: “affective and cognitive development cannot be separated, in that these two processes are inseparable and enhance one another” (Polleck, 2010, p. 50).

Power Relationships within Book Clubs

One of the most important issues to consider in planning a book club relates to authority structures. Teachers, media specialists, or students from local universities can serve as facilitators of book clubs, but a common observation in the literature is the relationship between student authority and the success of the book club. Capalongo-Bernadowski notes that adults need to model discussion to help students learn to make “real-life connections to the text,” but students need to take ownership of book talks (2007, p. 32). Polleck also stresses the importance of giving students ownership of the book club (2010, p. 53). In her work with two book clubs for high school girls, she tried to limit her participation to asking broad questions about students’ responses to books and encouraging quieter members to participate (Polleck, 2010, p. 55). Lapp and Fisher acknowledge that teachers or students could moderate book club discussions, but they prefer training students to function as discussion moderators (2009, p. 560). In a collaboration between preservice teachers at Colorado State University and elementary and junior high schools, O’Donnell-Allen and Hunt observed that adult leaders needed to be more directive in early book club meetings, but authority for book selections and conversations could shift to students as they became more comfortable with book club structure (2001, p. 83).

Although flexibility and sensitivity to the local context are important in establishing book clubs, another common refrain in the literature is the importance of allowing students to choose the books to be read (Hill, 2009, p. 12). Lapp and Fisher (2009) found student authority to be the key to developing students’ interest in reading when they used a book club format once a week in a high school English class. Students became so engaged with one author that they asked if they could read everything the author had written. Lapp and Fisher commented, “we are convinced that the impetus for this level of engagement was that we had followed the lead of our students when they asked if they could partner with us to choose the texts, the topics, and the assignments for their English class” (2009, p. 556). Although many book clubs use common texts, the purposes of the individual club are important to consider in deciding whether or not everyone should read the same books. Avid readers in Alvermann’s study preferred book discussions that did not center on common texts. Although adult facilitators were concerned about the lack of continuity in book discussions and wondered if a common text might produce more useful book discussions, students wanted the freedom to select their own books and enjoyed listening to each other for ideas about which books to read next (Alvermann, 1999, p. 246). In a book club designed to help teachers learn more about YA literature, teachers decided to read different books and then share information about them with one another (Boccazzi-Reichert, 2005, p. 30). If book clubs are to address the needs of young adult readers, students need a voice in book selection, just as adults do. Gender is another consideration when deciding whether or not to choose common texts. Allowing members to read different books can be one way to resolve conflicts over types of books to read, but gender-related differences in reading interests and social/emotional needs of participants might also make it useful to consider single-gender book clubs (Bausch, 2007; Polleck, 2010; O’Donnell-Allen & Hunt, 2001). Whatever the format of the book club, a common factor in successful book clubs seems to be sensitivity to the interests of the target participants.

Practical Matters

Once major decisions about the purpose and target participants for a book club are established, a number of practical concerns still remain. Book clubs can function within the English language arts classroom, within a school as an extracurricular activity, or as part of a larger community. While community book clubs are available through public libraries, my students live in several different counties, so a school-based book club might provide a more convenient setting for encouraging students to share their interests in reading. Decisions about where to meet relate to the purposes of the book clubs. Media centers can provide a “literature-rich environment that lends itself to the comfort and accessibility of reading for pleasure” (Capalongo-Bernadowski, 2007, p. 32). If the focus is on reluctant readers, book clubs within the English language arts classroom can provide one creative way to encourage more engagement in reading. One model includes both a traditional “core reading programme” and regular time for students to participate in book clubs (Barone, 2011, p. 2). Through in-class book clubs, students learn to collaborate to construct meaning and discover that questions about texts do not necessarily have a single answer (Barone, 2011, p. 20). Extra-curricular book clubs can meet during a study hall, during lunchtime, after school, during the summer, or on a flexible schedule through asynchronous online clubs (Capalongo-Bernadowski, 2007; Hill, 2009; Polleck, 2010).

Another important issue to consider in planning a book club is scheduling. Preservice teachers involved in facilitating elementary and junior high book clubs have noted that the busy extra-curricular schedules of the proficient readers in their book clubs made it difficult for students to find time to prepare for book club meetings (O’Donnell-Allen & Hunt, 2001, p. 85). Whether working with strong academic students or struggling readers, time commitment is a potential problem for book clubs that function outside the English language arts classroom. Hill recommends “book-oriented rewards” to encourage participation in book clubs (2009, p. 13). Alvermann and her colleagues paid participants $5.00 per week for participation in a book club that met at a public library (1999, p. 242). Capalongo-Bernadowski suggests using book club time for reading when the target audience consists of struggling readers (2007, p. 33). For busy high school students in my own school setting, jobs and extra-curricular activities will pose a challenge to establishing a book club. If adequate student interest exists, it will be important to consider lunch-time clubs, in-class book clubs, or an online book club, as well as after-school clubs.

Other questions to consider relate to club size and time commitment. Hill (2009) notes that she has conducted lunchtime book clubs with participation ranging from 4 to 25 students. After advertising for one month in all the classrooms in one high school, Polleck (2010) found 20 students interested in participating in book clubs. These twenty students were then divided into three book clubs. These numbers revealed an important fact to keep in mind: extra-curricular book clubs will serve a limited number of students. If the goal is to encourage more reading among reluctant readers, then in-class book clubs may be more useful. Length of commitment to the club will also need to be considered. The online summer book clubs described by Scharber (2009) changed every week with students participating based on interest in that week’s book. Students in book clubs described by Alvermann et al. committed to participating for fifteen weeks (1999, p. 242).

Problems related to scheduling and time commitments might be resolved by forming an online book club, but whether book clubs meet in face-to-face settings or online forums, the social nature of book clubs is important to consider. Students in Scharber’s online book clubs identified the synchronous online chats as the most important feature of the summer book clubs (2009, p. 435). Polleck observed that allowing several minutes at the beginning of each book club meeting for conversation about students’ personal lives was “essential in warming up the group for further textual discussions” (2010, p. 55). Although the face-to-face format may offer advantages for facilitating social connections, technology can be used to enrich book club experiences in a number a ways, including developing social relationships. Scharber (2009) proposes online book clubs as a way to promote social connections and encourage reading for pleasure. Participants in a summer book club enjoyed asynchronous conversations about books, polls, hyperlinks to webpages and Youtube videos, and synchronous book chats using Moodle as a secure online management system for a book club (Scharber, 2009, p. 434). An added benefit of online book clubs is the ability to include participants from different geographical locations and diverse cultures (Scharber, 2009, p. 436). Online book discussions can also facilitate literacy development by giving readers “time to reflect on readings and responses prior to posting an entry on the message board” (Larson, 2008, p. 127). In addition, students can post book reviews on a club website or explore websites of favorite authors (Capalongo-Bernadowski, 2007, p. 32). As Larson notes, “online literature discussions have great potential for fostering literacy skills, strengthening communication, and building a sense of community” (2008, p. 125).

The Next Step: Action Learning Project
Although I began planning this ALP with a vague belief that book clubs might be a useful way to encourage enthusiasm for reading among my students, the literature review has given me a much better sense of what book clubs do well and practical issues to consider in determining the structure of a book club. Despite the fact that book clubs can be used to help struggling readers, in my teaching context, most students are proficient readers even if they are not enthusiastic readers. The literature provided evidence that book clubs can also be effective in encouraging more reading among students who read well. Whether to use in-class or extra-curricular book clubs, however, depends on whether the goal is to encourage avid readers or to engage reluctant readers. Both options are possibilities in my teaching context, so the next step in the Action Learning Project will be to gain information that will help me consider the practical issues involved in establishing a book club and to collaborate with my students in considering what we might accomplish in our school through a book club.

Since establishing the purpose and target audience is an important first step in creating a successful book club, this exploratory Action Learning Project will help me to learn more about my students’ current reading habits and whether or not a book club might encourage more reading for pleasure. If my hunches are correct, then some of my students who resist reading the canonical texts that form the core of the English curriculum in my school are avid readers when they are allowed to select their own texts. Students who dutifully read every word of complex assigned texts, on the other hand, may not be reading independently for pleasure. I suspect that another, but smaller, group of students devour canonical and YA literature – both for assigned reading and for pleasure. More information about what my students read – and why – might be useful in determining whether or not a book club could promote a community of readers who encourage one another to develop habits of reading for pleasure. By learning more about my students’ reading habits and interests, I should be able to apply findings from the research literature to make more informed decisions about the potential usefulness of book clubs in my teaching context.

For this Action Learning Project, three research questions guide my planning.
1. What are my students’ current reading habits?
2. What technologies would be most effective for providing a social context for sharing enthusiasm for reading?
3. Would a book club be a feasible tool for encouraging students to develop habits of reading for pleasure in my current school setting? If so, what format would be most effective?

To address the first research question, I will administer a survey to my students about their current reading habits. Questions to be explored in the survey will include types of texts students read outside of school (e.g., fiction, magazines, newspapers, social media), frequency of reading, and purposes for reading (e.g., social networking, accessing information, pleasure). To answer the second research question, the survey will also include questions about students’ experience and interest in using technology. I will address the third research question through survey questions and semi-structured interviews with smaller focus groups to learn more about the feasibility of starting a book club in my school setting and formats that might appeal to students. Potential challenges relate to students’ busy schedules and whether face-to-face or online book clubs would appeal more to my students. If students express interest in a book club, then information from the literature review will be useful in moving to the next step. Involving students in decisions about books to read, whether or not to read the same books, how to organize meetings, and how to facilitate book talks will be important steps toward giving students ownership of a book club.

Project objectives will be addressed through the strategies below:

1.1 Apply learning theories to instructional design including social constructivism, multiple intelligences, Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy, participatory learning, and creativity.

Survey questions and smaller focus group interviews will involve students in planning how a book club could be organized, whether to emphasize face-to-face or an online format, technology tools for sharing books (e.g., blogs, website, vlogging, bookcasts), and learning together about fiction and nonfiction YA and canonical literature.

1.2 Apply Reader Response theory to instructional design.

Survey questions and smaller focus group interviews will afford students opportunities to share about literature they love or hate – and why. Although book clubs can facilitate improving reading competency, the focus for this project will be on book clubs that promote reading for pleasure and for making meaning of students’ own experiences in relation to literature.

1.5 Design learning experiences that operationalize the teaching of creativity.

I will use students’ responses to survey and interview questions to consider creative approaches to using technology to share enthusiasm for reading.

1.7 Model a reflective stance by self-assessing and reflecting on work completed.

I will use self-assessment and reflection as part of the Action Learning Project RAP. In addition, I will involve students as co-researchers in the project and share my own questions about YA literature and new literacies with them.

2.3 Use resources for keeping up-to-date on YAL titles and trends.

The survey and focus group interviews will provide valuable information about YA literature my own students are reading. This information will be useful to compare with titles recognized by the Printz Awards.

3.1 Practice participatory learning through media production for the Web.

I will report the findings from the ALP in a video format.

3.3 Adapt a stance that eagerly explores instructional applications of new technologies and media.

I will use survey and focus group responses to consider ways that technology and media might be used to encourage students to share their enthusiasm for reading.

While reading habits are shifting in the twenty-first century, the challenges of making sense of the world have not decreased. Like Maya Angelou, I remain convinced that reading offers a powerful tool for young adults trying to make sense of themselves in the world. Some of that meaning-making takes place through independent reading and reflection, but human beings — especially young adults — are wired for social interaction. This Action Learning Project should provide a useful strategy for exploring the potential of book clubs to spark more conversations about the power of books to help them make sense of a complicated world.


Alvermann, D. E., Young, J. P, Green, C., & Wisenbaker, J. M. (1999). Adolescents’ perceptions and negotiations of literary practices in after-school read and talk clubs. American Educational Research Journal, 36(2), 221-264.
Ambe, E. B. (2007). Inviting reluctant adolescent readers into the literacy club: Some comprehension strategies to tutor individuals or small groups of reluctant readers. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 50(8), 632-639.
Barone, D. (2011). Making meaning: Individual and group response within a book club structure. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 0(0), 1-22. doi: 10.1177/1468798411430092
Bausch, L. (2007). Boy-talk around texts: Considering how a third grade boy transforms the shape of literacy in book talk discussions. Journal of Early Literacy 7(2), 199-218.
Boccazzi-Reichert, A. (2005). A book club for teachers: Getting colleagues hooked on YA titles is a great way to reach kids. School Library Journal, 51, 30.
Capalongo-Bernadowski, C. (2007). Book clubs at work. Library Media Connection, 26, 32-33.
Hill, R. A. (2009). Lunchtime book clubs. Book Links, 18, 12-13.
Lapp, D., & Fisher, D. (2009). It’s all about the book: Motivating teens to read. International Reading Association, 52(7), 556-561.
Larson, L. C. (2008). Electronic reading workshop: Beyond books with new literacies and instructional technologies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(2), 121-131.
National Endowment for the Arts (2007, November). To read or not to read: A question of national consequence (Research Report #47). Washington, DC: Office of Research and Analysis.
O’Donnell-Allen, C., & Hunt, B. (2001). Reading adolescents: Book clubs for YA readers. The English Journal, 90(3), 82-89.
Polleck, J. N. (2010). Creating transformational spaces: High school book clubs with inner-city adolescent females. The High School Journal, 93(2), 50-68.
Scharber, C. (2009). Online book clubs: Bridges between old and new literacies practices. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(5), 433-437.

By reconcilingmatters

A Question of Authorial Authority: Post-Multicultural CCI

One of the most powerful narratives of the nineteenth century is Frederick Douglass’ autobiography: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave: Written by Himself. The subtitle is not insignificant. I’ve spent a good bit of time contemplating how Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin could have attracted more readers than Douglass’ far more eloquent work. I also find it interesting that Harriet Jacobs considered working with Stowe on her autobiography. Particularly after reading Stowe’s patronizing reflections on her meeting with Sojourner Truth – as well as the version of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech by Frances Gage, I am pleased that Jacobs decided to tell her own story. Jacobs’ dilemma in deciding whether to “authenticate” her voice by surrendering it to a white author or to risk having her own words ignored by the reading public seems pertinent to the controversy Aronson’s article has stirred. In a society in which literacy was for so long denied to most African Americans, it should be no surprise that the ability to tell one’s own story remains important. That Douglass’ narrative needed to be preceded by a testimonial from William Lloyd Garrison assuring the readers that Douglass did in fact pen his own story and that he was “confident that it is essentially true in all its statements; that nothing has been set down in malice, nothing exaggerated, nothing drawn from the imagination” (Garrison, 1845/2003, p. 34) should be disturbing to the reader. Does an African American really need a white man to authenticate his narrative?

Step 1 of the Post-Multicultural CCI called for us to consider our views on identity-based awards before reading Aronson’s article and Pinkney’s response. Since I read these chapter in Beyond the Pale as soon as my copy arrived, I’m not sure what my response would have been before reading. I had forgotten much of the substance of the argument when I returned to the text, but I had only read a few pages into Aronson’s article before Douglass, Jacobson, and Truth came to mind. Arsonson does raise a troubling question: “If you have to be black to win the [Coretta Scott King] award, do you have to be black to appreciate the winning book?” That would seem to be a question that also concerned Douglass and Jacobson. In the nineteenth century, apparently the answer was,”Maybe.” If black authors wanted to be appreciated on their own merit, they at least needed to consider having a white author recommend them, or worse, tell their stories for them.

Perhaps the time will come when authors from non-dominant cultures will feel that a separate award serves no purpose. The fact that so few African American, Latino, and Asian American authors have been recognized by non-identity-based awards suggests that the time has not yet arrived. When an outsider to an identity-based community writes a work so compelling that the members of that community want to break their own rules to include a new voice or when racism has become an irrelevant force of the past, then awards for identity-based groups may have outlived their purpose. Until that time, the subtitle “Written by Himself” seems as valid as it was in 1845.

Aronson, M. (2003). Responses to my critics: The claims of principle and of history. In M. Aronson (Ed.). Beyond the pale: New essays for a new era (pp. 17-23). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
Aronson, M. (2003). Slippery slopes and proliferating prizes. In M. Aronson (Ed.). Beyond the pale: New essays for a new era (pp. 1-10.) Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
Garrison, W.L. (2003). Preface. In D. W. Blight (Ed.). Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave: Written by himself, with related documents.(2nd ed., pp. 31-38). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s. (Originally published in 1845)
Pinkney, A. D. (2003). Awards that stand on solid ground. In M. Aronson (Ed.). Beyond the pale: New essays for a new era (pp. 11-16). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.

By reconcilingmatters

Critical Reflection Post: Sequential Art Rap-up

Shaun Tan’s _The Arrival_

It’s hard to believe that we’ve only been thinking about radical change for a few weeks now. It seems like we’ve been wrestling with “Skeleton Sky” and sequential art for much longer. Like the main character in The Arrival, it seems that we’ve traveled to a new land where much seems strange, but some things are strangely familiar. Graphic novels have been an important part of our literary experience with the strange, but familiar. In one session in the Bookhenge, we contemplated whether or not a book with no words could be categorized as literature. Shaun Tan’s graphic novel contains no words, but it certainly contains narrative, along with details that appear symbolic, expressive, and theme-like. Perhaps what Tan has created is more genre-blending than pure graphic novel. Although images are central to any graphic novel, Tan’s novel is so beautifully rendered that the images move beyond mere illustration or graphica. It seems a work of literary art. In contrast to “Skeleton Sky,” which seemed radical but trivial, Tan has achieved radical change with significance.

The Sequential Art collaborative project provided an opportunity to think more about Rosenblatt, Jenkins, and the importance of Reader Response and Participatory Learning approaches to literature. By relating The Arrival to our own experiences as digital immigrants (on our way to becoming digital residents), we were able to empathize more strongly with the feelings and frustrations of the characters in the novel. Tan tells an important story. Human beings often find themselves lost in new lands, unable to understand the language or the culture of their new surroundings. Slowly, things do get better. It often begins to happen when someone else decides to reach out and be a friend. Perhaps one of the most important steps in becoming residents in a new homeland is the realization that we are not alone. Others have experienced the same feelings of lostness and isolation. With time, we can become at home in a new community – and then help other newcomers. That’s a pretty powerful story for a book with no words. It certainly mirrors our experiences with technology. The world we live in is not the one we knew even ten years ago. Radical change has been thrust upon us all – learning to communicate and find our way in this new environment can be overwhelming – but as we help one another, we begin to feel at home. Alden and Sarah were great partners for the bookcast project.

In an earlier post, I considered genre blending in a theatrical adaptation of War Horse. It seems appropriate to rap up this discussion of radical change in literature with excerpts from a theatrical adaptation of The Arrival. This wordless presentation further supports the notion that language is a dynamic concept, including expressive communication from the visual and performing arts as well as print texts.

By reconcilingmatters